Speciesism - and Inherent Barriers to Ethical Changes and Animal
Advocacy - in the Veterinary Industry
Despite the public perception of veterinarians as animal advocates, and our sworn duties to uphold animal welfare, inherent challenges exist that prevent the veterinary industry from evolving past its ingrained speciesist attitudes. Opportunities to enact progressive ethical changes in the veterinary curriculum, and the profession itself, are oftentimes superseded by animal industry interests. Speciesism is implicit and explicit in the veterinary degree,
facilitated by the “roles” we assign different species (livestock and laboratory vs. companion animals), and the disparate way in which we are taught to perceive them. Through such learning, veterinary students are desensitised to ethically-questionable industry procedures (e.g. routine farm husbandry procedures, performed without pain relief). When the welfare of animals regarded as livestock comes into question in a public forum, justifications for maintaining the status quo and deferring to industry interests ensues, as does a culture of bullying, peer pressure and silencing contrary views. Furthermore, ventures to support
animal rights and liberation are discredited, and regarded as unscientific and therefore
invalid. In light of these barriers to change, rarely do veterinarians who have worked in
unethical industries (e.g. greyhound racing, live export) speak out on welfare issues that have continued for decades unaddressed. Accordingly, Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics - the only veterinary-driven lobby group in Australia, promoting humane
treatment of all animals - seeks to contribute independent veterinary input on such issues, as well as providing moral and educational support for veterinary students. There is a dire need to improve ethical reasoning skills in students, as well as veterinarians, and improving their interest in, rather than opposition to, topical animal welfare issues. In order to further the animal protection movement, it is vital that veterinarians provide greater leadership in advocating for animal, rather than industry, rights.
Sy Woon graduated from the University of Sydney's veterinary degree in 2014, and currently works as a small animal veterinarian in Florida, with plans to pursue shelter medicine and farm sanctuary work. During her time as a vet student, she was elected
president of the University of Sydney Animal Welfare Society for three years and was heavily involved in campaigning on various animal rights issues, as well as founding the Sydney University Vets Beyond Borders Student Chapter and being a
representative on the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.
She was awarded a Projects for Peace grant to undertake her rabies prevention
project in India, presented her research as an invited speaker at the 8th World
Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, Montreal, and was funded to attend the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs' 5th International Symposium in Portland. She has spoken at local and international conferences on humane veterinary education and aspires to work with children, imparting
compassion for all animals. Sy is currently the Director for Animal Consultants
International, as well as a Committee Member for Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, leading the Humane Education Working Group. During her free days, Sy enjoys performing volunteer surgeries for local shelters.